Blagust Day 10: Savage Lands – Early Access Impressions

Sun, sea and surf....

From afar, Savage Lands looks gorgeous.

I have to admit that I was initially attracted to it, as opposed to most other survival sandbox games, for this somewhat shallow reason. It looks kind of like Skyrim. Could it recreate the immersive feeling of Skyrim, in a survival setting?

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I wasn’t keen on finding out at the full price, while it was still in Early Access, avoiding such games as a matter of habit, but Steam cleverly read that a lot of people had this game on their wishlist and slashed prices by 60%. At $8, being able to try it out as it undergoes various updates over time and supporting its developers seemed like a steal.

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Up close, however, it gets somewhat more disappointing. The seams of the textures become obvious, the resolution is not that great, many of the bushes appear to have no substance whatsoever, being almost flat textures, and so on.

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The animations are awkward as hell, when you look at your own shadow.

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Each mouse click that swings an axe or hammer basically looks like this: Picture yourself taking a crouched haka stance… now freeze every part of your body, and swing one arm. Just that one arm. Up and down.

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Ugh.  It’s stiffer than a mannequin could achieve, and breaks practically all the rules of Animation 101.

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The sky’s still pretty, though.

The above anecdote about its visuals pretty much encapsulates the rest of the game as well, with the caveat that everything is still in Early Access, so the extent of the changes from now to launch is still unknown.

On the face of it, Savage Lands has something going for it here. Survival in a Skyrim-esque setting, with the promise of local singleplayer, friendly PvE multiplayer and free-for-all/hostile PvP multiplayer servers.

Hey, look, they managed to cater to all three subgroups of survival-liking players, how awesome is that already?

What it has does function, if in a basic manner.

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You start out crash-landed (via boat) on the shores of the Sundered Isle.

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There is a basic quest tutorial about stuff that you can collect and build.

Helpful items are spawned/placed fairly nearby so that you don’t immediately starve to death or otherwise die before figuring out what’s going on.

There are three meters that need to be looked after and maintained – fairly standard tropes in a survival game – Cold, Health, Hunger.

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Hunger, thankfully, doesn’t plunge as fast as certain other games *cough Don’t Starve cough* so there is time to putter around without a supreme sense of urgency. Which is good, because it takes a while to source out food.

There doesn’t seem to be any farming in the game as yet, so one is constantly foraging – either via the random hacking down of flora in the hopes that some berries or tree nuts pop out (disappointingly, there don’t seem to be any visual indicators as to plant-based food sources as yet either, so it’s been mostly Grand Theft Lumberjack) or via hunting animals.

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The hunting of deer is one of the better done ‘gameplay’ moments in Savage Lands so far.

Deer spook and run easily when you get close. So you have to “walk slowly” aka press the Ctrl key and “pretend to crouch and sneak through grasses” (no animations for those yet) and sneak up on the deer, if you hope to clobber them with a melee weapon.

It takes at least three hits to down the deer, so some patient stalking is in order.

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Fortunately, after a few repeated backstab rogue impersonations, you generally earn enough hide/sinew to make a bow.

Hurrah for ranged attacks. After crafting some flint arrows, the next hurdle is get the hang of actually using it. Right mouse button draws back the bow, left mouse button fires. The arrow arcs, and doesn’t quite go where your crosshairs are, so you have to compensate by aiming a little higher and/or shooting a few tracer arrows.

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The whole process ends up a pretty satisfactory simulation of deer hunting without making it impossibly annoying and time-consuming, and feels extremely rewarding because you almost always welcome the deer meat and you’re perpetually bottlenecked on animal leather products like hide, sinew and strong sinew.

Wolves are a little weird, aka the AI might still need to be worked on a little.

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Normally, the only way I realize a wolf is around is when I hear the growl and look down to see one of them nipping at my heels. It’s like they just appear around my ankles.

They take around 5 axe hits to slay, and the first few hits usually end up as an exchange of blows (with one caveat) and after they’re wounded, they seem to like running away for a short distance or running in wide circles…

Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.
Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.

…though ironically, they almost always come back, so it’s just a matter of letting them run themselves around a mulberry bush and taking another swing when they approach.

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Skeletons move slowly and otherwise seem to aggro like wolves initially. Then they’ll just inexorably close on you, and keep coming.

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Fortunately, the general caveat of -any- fighting in Savage Lands presently is that all you have to do is melee kite the buggers, and they’ll take a swing and miss, at which point you run up and whack them once or twice and then back off once again before they can take a second swing… which also misses, rinse and repeat. Really, just back away and most of the damage is minimized.

Nothing has seemed terribly challenging as yet, but then I haven’t fought bears or -the- dragon, which is just as well, while I’m merely getting my feet wet.

This fellow... the pride of the loadscreen, he is.
This fellow… the pride of the loadscreen, he is.

Health, by the by, is maintained by not getting hurt, using bandages when the bleeding effect is on you (I bled to death once when I didn’t have any on me), and bandaging up or eating food for a little health recovery.

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Knew I was a goner. it was just a matter of trying to get as close to base camp as possible before bleeding out, to make corpse retrieval easier. (It’s cute that we call it CR out of habit, when “item” retrieval is more appropriate these days.)
Lesson learned. Bring bandages.
Lesson learned. Bring bandages.

If you die, you turn up at your spawn point, having left your possessions at the corpse, which you can go and retrieve.

They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it'll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.
They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it’ll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.

Not too horrific in a singleplayer or friendly game, it’s not permadeath by any means, but I suppose it’s pretty much wave goodbye to your stuff on a PvP server.

Cold is the nastiest and most punishing meter to maintain in the Savage Lands. Wandering anywhere without shelter or clothing, especially when it starts snowing, plays utter havoc on this bar. Naturally, if it drops to zero, bad things happen to your health bar after that. The sound effects when your avatar gets cold and starts shivering and panting do offer pretty immersive and useful audio feedback. To recover one’s body heat, you are essentially required to stand by a campfire or other shelter for an obnoxiously long period of time.

Let's see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*
Let’s see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*

Apparently, this contributes to a communal gathering of manly men around a campfire on a friendly server, and I suppose produces enough boredom in players that they might start socializing with each other to kill time, but in a solo singleplayer game, it’s mostly a good excuse to flip screens and look for a video to watch.

As for resource collection and crafting, there is nothing terribly new or earthshaking here, it seems to stick to the same conventions as its genre – conventions that I wasn’t used to and did throw me off for a time.

Use axe to chop trees to get wood sticks and logs. I got that part. No problem. Seems “realistic” enough.

Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient
Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient change in elevation.

Get leather and sinew and hide from hunting animals. Got it. Makes sense.

Get stones and flint. Where the hell do I get those? I ended up operating off vague recollections of A Tale in the Desert’s gathering of flint from shorelines and picking up bits of stone from the beach. It took a significantly longer time before I remembered Don’t Starve and thought to a) make a hammer, and b) hit rocks with it.

Manna from rocks...
Manna from rocks…

Oh my. What a sudden bonanza of flint, stones, coal, and metal ore of varying qualities and more…

Things Survival Games Taught Me #1 – If you’re ever trapped on a desert island, you just need to break rocks with a sledgehammer and you’ll be fine and on your way out of the Stone Age.

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The crafting window in Savage Lands is also somewhat ugly in terms of UI, but functional. Pressing K brings up an entire window of options, with tabs for different things like armor, food, miscellaneous gear, repairing tools. Select the option you want, click the “Craft” button, and given the availability of resources and any necessary buildings in the vicinity like a firepit or a forge, it will auto-magically appear with a clang into your inventory.

The last interesting bit about Savage Lands at the moment is its lack of a map.

This, coupled with the biome presently being all snowy trees and bushes and plenty of grass and undulating gentle slopes and random bits of rock scattered possibly procedurally across the landscape, makes for an instant recipe of getting lost in the wilds fairly quickly and makes exploration rather difficult, to say the least.

Hell, every time I take off after a deer that takes off, my stomach clenches slightly because it’s liable to take me far into the woods and make it hard to find my way back.

Fortunately, it is possible to craft a rudimentary compass that assists somewhat with general directional navigation.

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So far, my main strategy is that I’ve set up camp by a scenic part of the beach, with mainly three directions I travel in. Along the shoreline in one direction, along the shoreline in the other direction, and more or less a straight line inland.

Following the shoreline is relatively easy, and allows me to navigate back by virtue of turning around 180 degrees and following the shoreline back the other way.

The straight line inland has been more of a challenge, even with the compass, and I have concocted an awkward strategy of setting up multiple firepits and campfires (since I need to keep warm constantly anyway) in a straight sight line (any foliage in the way is chopped down) so that I can follow the trail of firepits back to base camp, even if the fires have gone out.

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My lifeline firepit on the horizon… Home lies thattaway.

Savage Lands, unfortunately, has a present dearth of content. Beyond the occasional wolf, deer, skeleton or even plague wolf and armored skeleton encounters, traveling inland generally leads to seeing trees, trees and more trees and the odd burned out ruined building every once in a blue moon.

Biggest village I've stumbled across. All abandoned though.
Biggest village I’ve stumbled across. All abandoned though.

Oh, and the dragon responsible for said burned-out buildings can be sometimes seen circling in the sky or perched on a rock being a right terror.

Apparently, when you're the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spraying fire
Apparently, when you’re the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spewing fire around at nothing whatsoever. Or maybe he just -really- doesn’t like mosquitoes.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have much of a brain, or it fancies itself too high-and-mighty to worry about a little mouse busy making the world’s largest smoke signal with a line of burning firepits and it hasn’t flown down to investigate yet.

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Every so often, I think about lobbing an arrow in its direction to begin the “dragon boss” combat encounter (as is announced in the scrolling ‘updates’ bar before you start the game proper) and then just as frequently think the better of it and decide to do more tree and rock-punching until I accumulate enough resources to craft the ‘best’ armor and weapons first.

The game does have some potential. What it has, does function. With more content and interesting things to see and do and fight when exploring, it may be fairly promising.

As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, and oh, that dragon taunting you.
As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, grass, snow and oh, that dragon flapping around.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, S for (not-quite) Skyrim  and Started-Early-On-Blog-Post-For-Once, and the number 10.

Trove: First Impressions

Why do all the games I like have a floating castle?

Trove.

Simple, colorful, pixelated and addictive in the vein of Free 2 Play + Cash Shop games like Spiral Knights or Realm of the Mad God.

It has the blocky building nature of Minecraft, albeit only saving and preserving your creations in certain approved areas (Cornerstones and Club Worlds.)

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It uses procedurally generated biomes, producing the endless (yet similar and possibly ultimately recognisable) variety and novelty that explorers often like, especially when they discover a treasure trove of needed resources.

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It dots the landscape with player-created structures – aesthetically attractive dungeons and lairs filled with platforming and traps, where it’s sometimes even a challenge to locate the entrance IN – taking advantage of crowdsourced content creation to sate the Adventurer subset while giving Creator types that all-important audience and sweetening the deal with extra reward perks.

It’s probably what Landmark hoped it could be.

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Comparing the various popular games in this genre:

Landmark stresses more heavily on voxel creation/building and ‘realistic’ immersion, before crafting and game aspects.

Minecraft places the focus more on ‘survival’ exploration, creation (building/crafting) and immersion, while many Minecraft mods tend to lead up the intricate crafting and tech trees to focus on mechanical design.

Terraria is a lot more about game (in terms of boss combat) and gear progression, with creation as a runner-up, with less care for anything resembling immersive exploration.

Trove very much follows in Terraria’s footsteps as more ‘game’-focused. It’s an MMO (complete with gear progression, soloable and group content) meets Minecraft, in a smoother, slicker Adventure Mode, with a sidelong helping of mobile-browser-like F2P that takes care to make things colorful and attractive, while dangling ‘speed-up-now’ conveniences for cash.

Any form of ‘realistic’ immersion is cheerfully thrown by the wayside in favor of a more cartoon-y whimsical genre blend of fantasy and sci-fi and steampunk and dragons and ghost pirates and candylands.

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It does, of course, mean that one has a vast variety of costumes (pixelated they may be) to play dress up with. Especially since those are also player-created.

And boy, does it have gear progression. It has it in spades. So many spades that it reminds me of Dungeon Runners, the only other game I’ve encountered that cheerfully used rainbow as an item rarity level. (I’m sure there are some MUDs or Asian MMOs that have this too, but I couldn’t name them off the top of my head right now.)

Biting down on my automatic revulsion of anything that pegs performance to ever-increasing stats (and rest assured, Trove does), if you accept the premise of grinding for better stats in order to defeat essentially identical but enemies with numerically-superior stats for shinier numerically-superior gear rewards so that you can repeat this treadmill over and over and look shinier/more glowy/blacker-than-black-cool with wings and flying mount things and feel good about yourself, Trove does this very very well.

It feels very good. You go from green uncommon gear, to blue rares as you level. (Wow, rares, sounds cool already.) Next comes purple epics. Orange legendaries will drown you as you hit the mid-level of 10+. Occasionally you find a red relic. Then oh wow, is that RAINBOW resplendent in quality?

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(Darn, too bad it doesn’t have the stat spread you want. *flush* into the item deconstructor it goes.)

And all of it will apparently become meaningless when you hit max level 20 and realize that you can only level up further by increasing your gear to edgy /shadow/ levels that go from Shadow-1 to Shadow-6.

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Oh, and the last update apparently now brought -Radiant- item rarity, because glowy white is the new black, I guess.

(I lied, some Googling reveals that Radiant is indicated by yellow text surrounded by a bright blue outline. I like the phrase though, and I’m keeping it!)

While I’m usually not a fan of this sort of hamster wheel, especially since Shadow Arenas are apparently meant to be defeated by a manually-LFG-assembled group of 8 (smells like a raid, to me!) I am heartened by reports that -some- people find it possible to solo the higher end content with a good solo class (and presumably overpowered stats out the wazoo) plus good tactics.

If it is possible to get ‘there’ in the end via both group or solo means, even if solo is a touch slower than grouping, it makes the game less of an immediate write-off to me.

Anyhow, as a secondary game, it’s unlikely I’ll even get ‘there’ before I get distracted by something else to play.

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(I’ve realized that when I play vertical progression games where rising stats are pegged to improving performance, I tend to play them solo. In this way, it becomes a game with -myself- that I’ve willingly entered into, to grind for improvement like how the game wants, so that I can feel that ‘sense of progress.’ And when I no longer enjoy it, I just walk off the treadmill and stop the game there, until I want to experience that feeling again.

Grouping makes the whole system grate more, due to that possible unevenness in playing field. Someone might be stronger numerically than I, or the other way around. And once there’s a disparity there, it tends to lead to negative attitudes regarding the perceived ‘weak link.’ Not just from the stronger party, whose thought patterns will tend to follow along an elitist ‘don’t waste my time’ mindset, but also from the weaker party, who may worry that they’re holding back the group or not performing up to par.

Skill disparities are fixed by knowledge, learning, time and practice. By challenging oneself to reach a higher state.

Stat disparities are most typically fixed by repeating a doable activity over and over until one gets lucky with RNG. No learning there, just a lottery. Meh. But I digress.)

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There are two big attractions of Trove to me, and this is subject to personal taste, is its straightforward simplicity (but without handholding) and its action combat system.

Many of Trove’s systems are simple and straightforward to grasp. You can fish. You can harvest things. You can venture into lairs and dungeons and kill stuff. You can buy a boat to let you sail on water. You can craft rings for more stats. You can garden for decorative items and several useful resources. Unsoweiter.

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But it won’t pull any punches or make it super easy for you. This is what is needed. Yes, it may take some time to accumulate what you need to accomplish what you want. Your job: Figure out how you’re going to get what you want. Play the game while you’re thinking about it. Or just play the game and let what you need come with time (kinda like GW2’s legendaries.)

Playing the game, of course, involves my other favorite thing about Trove. Its action combat system, simple but not overly so. After GW2, I can no longer adapt well to static tab-targeting combat, I like to press a mouse button or key and see a sword swing, a spell fire, my avatar dodge in reaction.

More importantly, I have to be able to -move- as I do it, and preferably jump as well.

Trove absolutely lets you run and gun (with possibly some skill exceptions.)

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Jump? Haha. Heard of double-jump in 3D shooters? Trove takes it over the top. Triple and quad jump are not good enough. Here, have +6 Jump as a stat on your gear. Take +7 jump on your ring, if you want. Subscribe as a premium member? Enjoy 5 extra jumps in mid-air.

You can literally hop and float in mid-air as you navigate strange gauntlets of platformer-like traps, mostly negated by running along at mount speeds and +15 jumping your way to freedom (or the big boss at the end of the gauntlet.)

There’s probably an upper limit of usefulness (which feels to be in the 6-7 jump range, imo, but depends on your class,) but it sure is pretty ludicrous fun.

The dodging is a bit more slippery, and it may be a latency issue, as I simply can’t time dodges right for the life of me. I see the cue, I hit dodge, I usually get hit anyway.

But fortunately, there’s jumping, which throws off the AI a little more, there’s kiting in circles, kiting at range, and in perfectly good Minecraft vein, there’s being able to build your own pillars or walls to flummox dumb enemies if you were so inclined.

You have one character/account, but can switch classes, similar to games like Marvel Heroes, and unlock a variety through time spent playing and earning a special currency or shortcutting the process with cash. This does tend to extend the longevity of a game, as folks switch around and get the variety of leveling up different classes.

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The classes I’ve unlocked – Knight, Dracolyte, Shadow Hunter – all feel quite different in playstyle and reports are that Trove has done pretty well with varying their feel for the other classes too.

Skill-wise, there’s less variety than in traditional MMOs, resembling more of a MOBA.

You get one skill as a left-click attack, another typically stronger one with some extra flare (like AoE damage, a control aspect, etc.) as your right-click, button 1 is a little extra flavor and button 2 is an ‘elite’ on a timed cooldown. And a fifth passive skill that gives extra class flavor and synergizes with some of your active skills.

Coupled with moving and jumping and dodging and positioning, it generally is sufficient enough to be engaging, and simple enough to immediately grasp.

Timing and staggering them for best effect though, while managing your available energy, may be trickier to get the hang of.

I personally enjoy the combat of Trove more than I do that of Marvel Heroes, which has nearly always struck me as more punching bags gratification (as long as your stats are overpowered enough.)

Trove complicates the simple action combat just a little further with some mobs that have overhead swings that do knockback, some that do ranged attacks, some that lob arcing bombs at you and so on.

There’s no complex raid dance pattern to learn, just some basic patterns and typical things certain mob types do, but nothing Dark Souls or even GW2 hard. It’s ‘just right,’ skewed towards the easier side of the difficulty spectrum, but not insultingly simple.

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It’s structured well for short play sessions.

One ventures into an Adventure world of appropriate level range.

One instantly calls up a mount with a keypress and zooms toward a small lair or large dungeon, navigates as one likes to the boss of that locale (aka speed past all trash or treat it like a dungeon crawl, up to you), defeats it, badabing, a quest reward of xp and a chest of items are yours.

Rinse and repeat as often as you like.

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With more time on one’s hands, you could putter around with crafting and building, fishing, harvesting resources (mining ore and collecting crafting ingredients) and so on, interspacing non-combat activities between all the swordswinging and spellflinging.

Trove bears the social design of the more modern-day MMO. Xp and resources are automatically shared (as in doubled, individual loot to each person, not divided into half.)

It errs on the side of generosity, shrugging about leechers. Galloping through a dungeon or lair and some guy speeds past you on their much faster mount and slays the big bad? No matter. You get the quest complete xp anyway.

It is possible and does speed things up if one does lairs in an unofficial group – I’ve had the occasional duo or trio that decide to follow me or vice versa for a time, but it seems many playing are soloists at heart and will eventually go their own separate ways after a string of lairs and then both seeing something else shinier in different directions.

The groups, I suppose, have already found their way to the top, in their Clubs (guild-equivalents, of which you can join 5. Hoorah! And each has a separate club chat!) and private parties of friends they already know.

It’s not the first game I would think of, if someone is looking to meet up and form firm bonds with new friends that last for years. There are other games for that sort of thing. (Though I’m sure there are exceptions, even in Trove, such as clubs that spend all their time building musical creations and socialising and so on.)

Trove is more of a dip-in, dip-out, loosely attached temporary alliances, group for a time or solo at will sort of affair.

It’s an affair that I am happy to dally with.

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P.S. If you’re tempted by this post to make an account, please feel free to use this Refer-A-Friend link so that I might conceivably get a really cool black Elder Dragon mount one day!

(They did, however, set the bar quite high by requiring the recruit to hit Mastery Level 30… I haven’t even hit Mastery Level 20 myself. But eh, I can always dream, right?)

Steam Sale Recommendation: One Finger Death Punch

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This game is nuts. A good kind of nuts. Crunchy. Flavorful. Nuts.

The stick figure graphics look absolutely cheesy, in a low budget mobile app kind of way, but hiding behind that is a gem on the level of Cook, Serve, Delicious or better.

You press two buttons. That’s it.

Left and right mouse buttons. Or if you’re a keyboard warrior, you get the options of left/right arrow, S/D or B/N.

Everything else is in the timing, plus the combos and skills that change up the timing.

This game distills that mechanic into its utmost purest form. (A one-button clicker would lack the confusion of one’s fingers trying to decide which button to press now.)

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I suppose you might call it a rhythm game meets a fighting game side brawler or something, but whatever you call it, it’s definitely worth a play.

It will teach things like anticipation, watching the enemy’s coming attacks, planning of your next few moves and improve one’s reaction time.

Skills that can be applied to any other action-combat game you’re playing, like say, *cough*, GW2. (I weep inside every time I see a player get knocked down by a champion wurm’s tossed rock. It’s one of the easiest things to practice dodging on. The player just has to make the mental connection that dodging it -is- actually possible.)

It will punish button mashing with tit-for-tat ruthlessness.

And still it will feel completely fair, because it will only attack you when you slip up and make that mistake. Press one button that failed to connect and missed, and an enemy will hit you in response. Fail to dispose of an enemy, and it again will hit you.

Get the timing and anticipation perfect, and you are rewarded with sequences of absolute martial arts combo perfection as you slip into a flow state and your corresponding stick figure glides like water and smashes the crap out of his enemy stick figures.

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Each level lasts a fairly short time, so it’s great for those quickie entertainment moments when one can’t afford to fire up a longer game (or say, when one is waiting for 15-30 minutes IN a longer game waiting for something to start.)

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And yet, there are a TON of levels with a bunch of variations to choose from (the above pic is like one small part of the whole continent map – the graphics look like shit, yes, but thankfully you don’t have to stay in this level select screen long) plus survival mode plus god-knows-what difficulty modes, so there’s plenty of game in this game.

Ultimately, you wanna pick up One Finger Death Punch for the fantastic demonstration of how merely pressing two buttons can add up into an entertaining game, and for the cartoon stick figure carnage amidst punchy sound effects that work really well.

GW2 Hype Meter Unmoved & Quickie Steam Game Impressions

The whole Early Access phenomenon, coupled with Steam sales, has produced some rather odd behavior in me.

I don’t know how to get hyped up over anything anymore (or more precisely, when.)

Guild Wars 2 announces some sweeping, massive changes to traits, gears and stats for all classes in a pending patch.

I think, “Wow. Ouch. Wow. Er, ok. Hrm. Eew. Hrmf. Wow. Hmmmm…” and end up curiously neutral, uncertain as to how it’s all going to pan out and resolving to wait and see before emotionally overreacting, positively or negatively.

(I don’t like the idea of making Ascended gear more important or effective over Exotic, because of that whole level playing field thing and the perennial tendency of players to exclude others and become toxic under the influence of beliefs that don’t even vaguely resemble true fact. I don’t like being forced into vertical progression, and I’m ready to drop a game at any point if they tell me I now have to do such-and-such activity in order to get such-and-such stat reward, or else become useless or below par.

However, some quick Excel calculations later, my hypothesized extrapolations suggested that while the patch note percentages -look- big, the actual effective stat change is kinda… not that big a deal. It’s like a 5-7% primary stat difference now between full exotics and ascended, and we might go to 7-9% primary stat difference with the change.

Then there’s comparing Ascended trinket+weapon+exotic gear versus full Ascended, which is the more usual state of affairs since it’s the Ascended armor that is prohibitively expensive. The difference in primary stat is now somewhere between 1-2% going to 2-3%, which sounds a bit more negligible.

Of course, since all the stats on both exotics and ascended rose, maybe both are objectively better than what we’re already operating with. Except except they’re doing something with the level scaling again, and there’s the condition damage change, and I have no idea what this would actually translate to in terms of actual damage done after all’s said and done with the new traits, new gear stats, new level scaling, new everything.

So, you know, fuck it. Record damage done and stats now. Wait for patch drop to compare, paper theorycrafting is kinda useless with so many moving parts changing…)

Guild Wars 2 announces some big things regarding guild halls at E3.

I think, “Kewl. Mental note: Watch Youtube or Twitch video at some point in the future to know what was said” and stay unhyped, having not actually seen the video yet.

Guild Wars 2 announces that pre-purchases for Heart of Thorns are now available!

I go, “Sweet!” and rush to the website…. then promptly deflate at the available options, having mentally calculated that I’d probably pick up the best Ultimate deal, but eesh, that’s a lot of money… and for what, uncertainty right now. We haven’t even see how the pending patch changes are going to play out. We haven’t even heard half of the elite specializations yet. We’ve seen -one- Heart of Thorns map (that is, if you qualified for the betas, and half of it seemed unpopulated anyway.)

Come on, we’ve all been here before. It sounds exactly like something out of Early Access. Please give us money now to support us as we’re developing the game you want to play!

I rarely ever buy into this Early Access thing, so it’s not a scheme that works for parting me from my wallet. Steam sales have trained me to wait for the magic 75% off mark if I don’t urgently -need- to play this game now. (And with so many games available on my plate, be it from the Steam guilt trip list, free-to-play MMOs or other games, it’s a rare game that I -need- to play right this moment.)

Furthermore, I find myself confused over the best time to hype (or feel hyped) about something now.

Early Access spreads out the excitement. Ok, some people are playing it now. Some other people are playing it now. Some are still waiting for launch. Some are waiting for sales. The hype has spread out into one long tail, there’s no more spikes of excitement. (For me, anyway.)

My reaction, more often than not these days, is to simply wait-and-see.

Some early adopters will grab it first, stream it, review it, tell me what they think. I can get a better picture of what it really contains, what it really offers, whether I might like it or not.

With that information, I feel better about my decision to purchase, rather than buying it sight unseen, on wisps of hope. Gimme evidence. Gimme facts.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be over here, playing games that are actually already made and launched, and better yet, on sale.

inverbisvirtus

In Verbis Virtus

The concept sounded ridiculously cool and innovative. Cast spells using your own spoken words, picked up via microphone.

Immersion is one of the things I’m constantly looking to experience, in games that care to offer it to me, and actually having to learn and memorize arcane words of power is as immersively mage-like as they come.

Except… I’m not one for using mics. Ever. There’s the hassle of setting it up, of making sure you’re not blowing somebody’s ears off (including your own) with misconfigured volumes, there’s having to put on a headset instead of relaxing free and easy with 5.1 speaker surround sound, there’s the weirdness of hearing your own voice come back to you, not to mention the general weirdness of talking to a screen (in tongues!) while your family wonders what you’re doing, and oh, it’s late at night and all is quiet and folks (including neighbors, land area is scarce here, people are packed into buildings where sound might travel through walls, floor or ceilings – I can hear kids bouncing balls on the floor above me) are asleep, and HERE YOU ARE, ARTICULATING STRANGE NOISES TO YOURSELF, YOUR MICROPHONE AND YOUR COMPUTER GAME.

All of that can kinda wreck the immersion.

I’d resolved to save the money and watch a Let’s Play of it instead, enjoying someone with a more resonant voice than I have perform on my behalf.

Somewhere along Video 6, I found myself caving in to the temptation of the personal experience and ended up buying it.

The first caveat is that you have to not mind puzzle games. In Virbis Virtus is not a first-person shooter, in the sense that there’s not going to be a million and one enemies to kill. (Lichdom: Battlemage might cater to that more. Not sure. I bought it. On my to-try list.)

It’s about learning a bunch of weird spells, like light and telekinesis spells, so that you can solve door opening puzzles with them. Along the way, there might be some platforming and jumping, some speed reactions and rehearsed sequences at certain parts, block stacking and object manipulation, plus riddle-like clue reading and thoughtful thinking interspersed.

The second caveat is that you have to be a little bit more competent at setting up (or already having a microphone configured) than I am.

There was a great deal of preliminary cursing and swearing at the beamforming microphone that was -supposed- to be built into the Audio Control Module of my Soundblaster ZX, but turned out to have ridiculously wimpy pickup (had to turn boost and volume up all the way to even catch something, with awful garbled noises and feedback threatening each step of the way.) There was a debate with oneself on whether to use the secondary backup of a plug-into-USB and go headset, but that seemed like wimping out from the problem device. There was digging around and de-dusting of another microphone to plug into said ACM to test (obviously pickup is -much- better when the microphone is nearer my mouth. Duh,) unsoweiter.

That said, the game itself deals rather well with audio recognition, better than I expected, certainly (though it can fail about 5% of the time, often at critical moments when you’re panicking and trying to remember the proper enunciation in order to not die and promptly fail miserably. Lesson learned: I would make a very good -dead- mage if I lived in a fantasy world. It’s certainly ‘realistic’ and immersive in that sense.)

I had occasional bouts of broken immersion every time the microphone tried to poke me in the mouth, but that’s probably just me being an old-fashioned text user. All the newfangled voice-preferring users of TeamSpeak and Mumble and Ventrilo and Twitch should have very little issues on this front.

The best praise I can offer (being such a staunch anti-mic hermit) for In Verbis Virtus is that when it all goes well, it really does feel magical.

vertigo

It’s as close to virtual reality or a holodeck as anyone has come so far, until someone either figures out how to pair it with an Oculus Rift or writes a game that does both.

pixelpiracy

Pixel Piracy

We now take a complete 180 into the land of the cutesy and comical.

I am still trying to figure out what is so utterly appealing about this game that I lost three hours to it and wouldn’t mind playing on.

It’s pretty simplistic, it’s no elaborate Terraria, it’s a game about leveling up your pirates so that you can earn more gold and more loot to buy new and better gear and items so that you can blow up bigger and badder ships owned by other pirates or slaughter savage natives on tropical islands so that you can take their gold and loot to rinse and repeat.

Yep, an incrementing numbers game, along with a “just one more turn” schtick, in the form of one more ship or island.

Combat is RTS-like, in the sense that you just tell your units where to go, and after that they’ll take over the fighting from there. (Better hope you prepared them well with good weapons and levels and training and such!)

I suppose part of the appeal for me is the sense of unknown discovery – like the first time one plays Minecraft or Don’t Starve and -doesn’t- refer to a third-party source to tell them what to do. Some things are not that well explained or documented in game, so there’s a bit of trial-and-error experimentation involved to figure out exactly how this little part of this system works and fits together.

Forum reports are not terribly positive regarding bugs and such as the game progresses though, so only pick up at a sale price where you won’t regret the expenditure if stuff breaks later on down the road.

julia

The shipboard AI wakes you from cryo-sleep.

The spaceship’s on fire, it’s venting poisonous gases and there’s runaway electrical shorts all over.

You’re a xenobiologist by occupation.

Oh, and incidentally, everyone else but you seems to be dead.

Fortunately, you don’t actually have to physically go out there and turn firefighter. There’s machinery that can solve your various problems for you, but curiously, the computer seems to need your brain and input to operate said machinery.

After dealing with the immediate crisis, you promptly turn detective as you piece together the last moments of the crew on the research station on the surface of the planet that your ship was orbiting around… a grand saga of paranoia and poisoning and murder.

julia2

J.U.L.I.A. is essentially a point-and-click adventure game with an intriguing premise (and apparently, according to reviews, a decently good story.)

It does away with some of the tropes of the adventure game – there is no avatar you have to watch walk around the screen ever so slowly, instead you’re ostensibly giving commands to a remote bot that does the actual work. Both the bot and computer are capable of conversing with you, providing the necessary NPC dialogue chatter to keep you company while you poke around at clues and try to figure out what’s going on. Pixel hunting is kept to a minimum, as the bot can ‘scan’ for interesting objects which are highlighted for a short time.

I’ve not completed the whole game yet, but it definitely seems like a game worth trying, as long as you like a bit of mystery, exploration and puzzle-solving in a sci-fi story.

GW2: Heart of Thorns Beta Sneak Peek / Test Thingmajig Thoughts

beta_wyvern

Brought down a wyvern out of the sky with about 8 people or so.

Felt pretty good.

Oh yeah, we killed it too, but that was only a matter of time. (S’ good no time limit.)

The defiance break bar felt quite good. Seemed like it would take about 5-6 people’s coordinated cc within a fairly short (5 seconds?) period of time to successfully land.

At first there was only me and another person landing cc at most.

Then I decided that everyone else hadn’t read the skill bar for their revenants (understandable, my eyes were glazing trying to make sense of their utilities and I told myself, meh, will learn it as I level the real one when the expansion hits) and outright announced which skill to use.

It took about 5 more break bars of practice, with one or two more people catching on each time, but as the wyvern dropped to about 1/4 health, we finally managed ONE coordinated cc spike. Just the one, but it was rather satisfying to see it crash out of the sky instead of flying off and coating the platform with flame.

I figure it’ll only be a matter of time before people learn. Seems learnable. And if it doesn’t work, it’ll just take slightly longer to succeed, is all. (For this encounter, anyway.)

Pretty small test area for the beta, but what was there felt overall good and tight.

beta_masteries

Masteries were there with readable tooltips.

It -did- take me a while to figure out where they put it, since I kinda skipped over the first popup tip.

Went through the hero panel with no success, becoming more and more perplexed until I finally spied the unfamiliar symbol in the lower right hand corner of my screen. Clicking on it pulled it up.

Revenant was on show with limited traits and weapons and stances (looks like the heavy armor equivalent of engineer and elementalist complexity, if you ask me, and I think it’s a class I will probably be more inclined to learn over the other two.)

Pretty wild skills overall. A ranged hammer and a mace/axe that felt melee-ish. A lot of rectangular line-shaped skills. Some kind of stored up energy system for utility skills and elites rather than the usual cooldown times. A ‘resistance’ buff that makes them ignore conditions for the duration (“Nooooo,” scream my condi PvP builds) and a lot of condition/boon manipulation possibilities, I think.

One ‘Adventure’ was on show, where you run around with a flamethrower and torch vine tendrils and try to reach bronze, silver, gold target numbers for doing it good, better, best. I managed bronze and unlocked a mastery point, so that’s one option for masteries. Seemed like a solo style scoring affair at first glance, not 100% sure. Might be a minor social issue of “you took my mob spawns!” if so.

beta_gliding

The only thing that I wasn’t 100% impressed with was gliding.

I didn’t like the delay between leaping off something, falling screaming a certain distance before the option to “Press Space to Glide” came up. I’m not sure if it’s a ping issue (~230ms, for the record) but I fell for like several character lengths (heights) before I could press space to trigger the gliding. That feels very awkward, compared with my memory of how smooth it was in Aion.

The glider also looked remarkably lame. Like I grabbed a pink flower to fly or something – too curvy, I kinda had the expectation that gliders would be more aerodynamically streamlined with straight lines…

Once the glider had taken hold though, the actual gliding experience felt ok.

Caught an updraft once during the wyvern fight (had to get out of combat to switch weapons) and that worked as expected. Fly into it with glider, thing lifts you like an elevator (or one of those aetherblade bounce pads, but slightly slower and more controlled) and you can glide out of it as desired.

Besides that, everything else felt decent. The one event chain that was on display worked. Fight a bunch of mordrem vines and stuff. Fight a bunch more mordrem while carrying bombs to blow up something. Lazy people who refuse to carry bombs can hang way back in a separate event to snipe mobs with a seriously overpowered sniper rifle, assisting in the otherwise highly tedious killing of Mordrem husks that get in the way of the bomb carriers. Succeeding let you board choppers to take out ze wyvern.

beta_crash

Very little need to comment about the scenery. All well done, aesthetically spot on in the usual ArenaNet style. Jungle definitely looking to be quite vertical, did quite a bit of accidental (then purposeful) falling and getting out of the beta testing area via gravity and getting forcibly zapped back to starting point as a result. Presumably will be even MORE vertical when the real thing hits.

Can’t wait.

(In the meantime, I need to get around to a post or series of posts about what I’ve been up to the past week or so, but bah, busy busy busy.)